The Philadelphia Eagles are scheduled to report to the NovaCare Complex for training camp on July 25, with the first live practice slated for July 25.
While many of the starters are locked into their positions, this is the perfect time of year to speculate on some of the lesser-known players, or those quintessential under-the-radar guys that everyone likes to claim they saw coming. Well, this is that list.
1. Cre’Von LeBlanc, CB
The former undrafted free agent has already handled the ultimate pressure cooker when he picked off Drew Brees on the first snap in their divisional-round playoff matchup. LeBlanc was signed with low expectations, claimed off waivers more out of necessity than need. But the 24-year-old showed great promise down the stretch and played 77 percent of the Eagles’ defensive snaps. More importantly, LeBlanc looked good. Really good. According to Pro Football Focus, he finished the season allowing just 1.02 yards per every snap in slot coverage.
LeBlanc surprisingly didn’t get any first-time reps in spring practices, but it wasn’t due to lack of effort. The Eagles have a logjam at cornerback, leading to rumors that new Jets GM Joe Douglas may try to trade for LeBlanc. Remember, Douglas was instrumental in scouting LeBlanc and forcing the Eagles to sign him. Don’t be surprised if defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz gives him some extra burn in the preseason as a way to both motivate him and show him off to other teams.
2. Boston Scott, RB
Wait, who? Exactly. No one knew Scott’s name until head coach Doug Pederson nonchalantly mentioned the diminutive running back and return specialist as a possible replacement for Darren Sproles. After that, Scott was off to the races. He made one cut-back move during 11-on-11 drills at Eagles OTAs that drew comparisons to Allen Iverson crossing over Michael Jordan. That may be a little much, but the fact is the kid has talent. Plus, he has gone on record saying he grew up idolizing Sproles.
Scott, a sixth-round pick by New Orleans in 2018, has a long haul ahead to make the 53-man roster. There are four guys ahead of him with legitimate experience at running back. However, the 24-year-old can show his value in the return game, specifically as a punt returner. He made a career out of jaw-dropping, ankle-breaking runs at Louisiana Tech where he racked up 1,840 yards and 14 touchdowns. All things considered, Scott seems to have a lot more upside than Wendell Smallwood.
3. Shareef Miller, DE
The 254-pound defensive end out of Penn State immediately won Eagles fans over when he declared his hatred for the Dallas Cowboys. If Miller is doing his own PR, then he’s a master. That kind of talk can turn rookies into household names. Miller was never the pass-rushing force to be reckoned with in college, but he did set career highs in tackles (41), tackles for loss (15) and sacks (7.5) as a junior. Scouts have applauded his quick footwork and ability to cover tight ends in space, too.
Miller, of course, finds himself buried on the depth chart behind studs like Brandon Graham, Derek Barnett and Vinny Curry — although he could use that to his advantage. No one is expecting him to jump in and steal any snaps from them, but the Eagles are going to need a third edge rusher to keep them fresh. Miller is almost guaranteed to make the final squad since they invested a fourth-round pick in him. His main competition on the defensive line will be Josh Sweat (returning from an ankle injury) and Daeshon Hall (a third-year player in a make or break year). Point is, there should be plenty of reps for Miller — unless Connor Barwin enters the mix.
4. Andrew Sendejo, S
From a talent perspective, there is no reason to think the nine-year veteran won’t be on the field for the Eagles on opening day. He was a revelation in OTAs as both teammates and coaches marveled at his aggressiveness and leadership. According to Pro Football Focus, Sendejo ranked 42nd among all safeties in 2018 with a 69.7 grade, dropping from the year before where he graded out at 77.1. The reason was simple: Sendejo only played in five games last season after injuring his groin in November.
Philadelphia signed him to a one-year deal and may need his full slate of services should anything go awry with Malcolm Jenkins’ contract negotiations. Or if Rodney McLeod can’t return to form after a season-ending knee injury. Sendejo is a physical “in the box” safety who can deliver the boom. There are some concerns over his coverage skills, but he’s been more than adequate there. The weird thing, the Eagles could decide to release him outright. If they did that, they would gain an additional fourth-round compensatory pick in 2020.
5. Clayton Thorson, QB
Nick Foles is gone and everyone is worried about what happens if Carson Wentz goes down. The Eagles have waxed poetic about Nate Sudfeld, all pretty well documented. But what about the kid they drafted in the fifth round out of Northwestern? Well, here’s what we know about him: solid arm strength, great intangibles, good pocket presence, imposing size. Thorson is what scouts refer to as a “high floor, low ceiling” prospect. That’s OK. Thorson is working under the NFL’s newest quarterback whisperer in Doug Pederson, a title he stole from his mentor Andy Reid.
Thorson has been a sponge in film study and in the quarterbacks meeting room, learning all he can from Wentz and Sudfeld. He was up-and-down at Eagles OTAs, but that’s to be expected. Fifth-round picks get huge learning curves. The interesting part was how much Sudfeld struggled in the spring. With Wentz’s injury history, the Eagles are going to be taking hard looks at Thorson in the preseason. If his Pro Day was any indication — he threw 50 passes and completed 48 – then Sudfeld should be looking over his shoulder.